Daymé Arocena

Posted on 
February 28, 2022
4:02 pm

Cuban musician, composer, and director Daymé Arocena went from local choir singer to worldwide star in just a few years, being compared by the press to legends like Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Celia Cruz. Honing her skills from a young age, her ingenuitive blend of jazz and neo-soul with Afro-Cuban music makes her shine in the industry.

Arocena’s musical education began at age 9, when she was accepted into a prestigious music school in Cuba for classical studies, composing, arranging, and choir directing. Her education combined with the day-to-day musical folklore common in Cuban households allows her to intertwine deep-rooted traditions with a new generation of sound. At just 14-years-old, she became the lead singer of Los Primos, an Afro-Cuban big band.

After winning the Marti y el Arte award in 2007, industry leaders began to notice Arocena was a musical prodigy. Some of her biggest supporters were saxophonist Jane Bunnett, François Renié of the Havana Club, and British DJ Gilles Peterson. In 2014, Renié and Peterson collaborated with Arocena to skyrocket her career. After signing her to Brownswood Recordings, she made an appearance on Peterson’s popular album series “Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash!” that launched her into the world of Cuban electronic music.

Shortly after, she won the 2015 Juno Award for best jazz album with Burnett’s band, Maqueque. Arocena made her debut that same year with her EP “Nueva Era,” which was an instant success. The first track is a prayer to her maternal deities, Oshún and Yemayá, representing her spiritual connection to music as well as her strong religious beliefs. A strong believer in Santería, Arocena typically performs in all white, wearing her signature turban as a symbol of her faith. 

Arocena’s first full-length album, “Cubafonía” came in 2017, showcasing her sophisticated arrangements and rich choral vocals. She uses a unique style of Cuban musical tradition as a basis for each track, complete with the ever-present rumba and Afro-Cuban beat. Her latest release “Sonocardiogram” (2019) is another spiritually influenced album, celebrating elements of Santería and sharing Arocena’s story as a creative spirit. She describes the album as “a snapshot of who we are inside.” It was listed on NPR’s “Best Music of 2019” list.

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